Genetix Gets $35M for Gene Therapy, FDA Delays Decision on Alkermes/Amylin Drug, MedMinder and Vitality Tackle Medication Compliance, & More Boston-Area Life Sciences News

3/19/10

The FDA added some suspense to one New England biotech firm’s week, while two others reached closure on nice-sized venture deals.

Genetix Pharmaceuticals raised $35 million in a Series B round of venture capital from new investors Third Rock and Genzyme Ventures and return backers Easton Capital, Forbion Capital Partners, and TVM Capital. Ryan took a look at how the 17-year-old Cambridge, MA-based firm is working to prove the mettle of its approach to gene therapy—and to help restore investors’ faith in once-hyped field.

—Rhythm Pharmaceuticals, a startup incubated in the Boston offices of MPM Capital, raised $21 million in Series A round of funding led by MPM and New Enterprise Associates. The funding will help Rhythm conduct clinical trials of two new treatments for obesity and diabetes. The startup licensed the molecules, genetically modified versions of hormones called ghrelin and melanocyte-stimulating hormone, from the French biotech firm Ipsen.

The FDA delayed a decision about a diabetes drug from Waltham, MA-based Alkermes (NASDAQ: ALKS), San Diego-based Amylin Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AMLN), and pharma giant Eli Lilly. The agency did not request that the drug, exenatide once-weekly, undergo any new animal tests or clinical trials to be approved, but it did raise various issues around its prescribing information, manufacturing, and risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS) program.

Forma Therapeutics of Cambridge joined forces with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of White Plains, NY, to discover drugs for immune cell cancers. The deal, financial terms of which were not disclosed, follows on a drug-discovery deal that Forma inked with Lexington, MA-based Cubist Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:CBST) last year.

Duffy DuFresne, CEO of Maynard, MA-based Ischemix, told Ryan that his company is about to launch a make-or-break human test of its drug CMX-2043 for protecting heart tissue during cardiac surgery. The 11-year-old firm has enough money from individual investors—mainly its chairman and president, Reinier Beeuwkes, and its medical director, Geoffrey Clark—to fund the 200- to 220-person trial, but will need to show encouraging results to raise additional funds after that.

—Ryan took a look at the efforts of companies like Newton, MA-based MedMinder and Cambridge-based Vitality to address the $290 billion-per-year problem of patients who don’t take their medications, using electronic pillboxes and medicine bottle caps that remind patients of the med schedules and alert them when they’re off track. Such companies stand to benefit from proposed healthcare reform, which would give doctors bonuses for improving their patients’ health, and from similar policies already in place at some health plans.

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